Finding Focus

Image Credit: Carl Richards / Behavior Gap

Over the years, I have become pretty good at giving sound advice to people who are worried.

Ironically, it isn’t because I have it “figured out” it is because I am an expert worrier — routinely haunted by anxiety. If you want help turning a molehill into a mountain, or expending energy concerned about something that may never happen, I’m your guy. In an effort to deal with my own issues, I’ve been given, researched, and read, a lot of excellent strategies for addressing worry. I know them. I can tell you about them. I can suggest you follow them. I just struggle to implement them.

Do as I say. Not as I do.

Since the beginning of the pandemic I have routinely shared the image above (created by Carl Richards / Behavior Gap) with my staff, as a reminder of how we can approach each day — at the intersection of the things that matter, and the things we can control. It’s an exceptionally logical strategy, except that 2020 has defied logic.

The diagram still works, but we have to keep in mind that we are dealing with a moving target. Right now, things that matter and things we can control change daily — if not more frequently. For example, if you are personally dealing with health issues, or loss, the things that matter to you (at least for the moment) are going to be dramatically different than for someone who isn’t struggling with these challenges. In addition, it seems like almost daily we are given new or additional expectations/responsibilities (at work and in life) for which we have very little control. You may not get to decide whether or not you eat out for dinner, go to work tomorrow, see friends/family, or even risk exposure. Many of these choices have been taken away.

My suggestion. Recalibrate every day. Maybe even every couple of hours. Consider what you are faced with and ask yourself:

What matters most — right now?

What can I control — right now?

As the diagram suggests, go to work in the overlap.

As a quick aside for those of you in the education profession. Relationships will always be front and center for what matters most. In addition, there is a lot you can control to ensure that the people you work with feel recognized and valued. If you are focused on doing things that make your students and colleagues feel safe, appreciated, and heard you are making good use of your time — even if this is at the expense of academics. Right now, relationships > learning >>> content > grades > homework > standardized tests, etc.

So there you have it from an expert in worry. Take one day at a time (one hour at a time if necessary). Re-evaluate constantly. Focus on things that matter and over which you have at least a measure of control. Take care of yourself and others.

Easy peasy.

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